OUCH: What I Didn’t Learn From Mr. Sir in Grade Seven

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One morning in May or June, towards the end of the school year, after being absent for a couple of days, my Grade 7 teacher, Mr. Sir, greeted the class with his lips badly swollen and some of his front teeth missing. He said he’d been playing softball in a men’s softball league a couple of nights before. It was starting to get dark, and the lights around the field had been turned on. When Mr. Sir went to catch a ball that had been hit towards him, he faced directly into one of the lights and could no longer see the ball. The ball smacked him right in the mouth, hard, breaking several of his teeth. It was bloody and awful, and it hurt a lot–and that was just the ongoing dental work required to fix his teeth. That’s what Mr. Sir told us, anyway. I never doubted that story, not at all, until I started to review in my mind my experiences in Mr. Sir’s class in preparation for writing this blog post.

I learned about a year ago, after coming across his mother’s obituary in the Vancouver Sun, that my Grade 7 teacher had died at a relatively young age: it was noted in the mother’s obituary that she had been predeceased by her son.  (I didn’t know the mother; but when I saw that unusual family name, I paused to read the obit since it was likely she was related to Mr. Sir.)  I had fond memories of Mr. Sir, and Grade 7 in general, and reading Mr. Sir’s mother’s obituary led me to do some on-line sleuthing, to find out when Mr. Sir had died, and to possibly learn more about his life. (My actual relationship with him had ended at the end of Grade 7. Not only did I move on to junior high school, but also our family moved to a new city.)

There was very little information readily available about Mr. Sir on-line, not even an obituary. All I was able to find was a snippet that he had done a Master’s degree in Educational Administration, where I don’t know, and a mention in an article about someone else indicating he had worked, at some point, as a school principal in the same school district in which I had been a student in Grade 7, but not at the same school. Since there was so little information about him on-line, and since Mr. Sir had been actively involved in the community as a teacher and school principal, I had to conclude that he had died at least several years ago, before the Internet really took off.

I remembered Mr. Sir as an excellent teacher, and it seemed a great shame to me that there was so little information about him available on the Internet, that has become our main repository of information about people, and even a validator of our lives. (Yes, my feeling in that regard is one of the reasons I blog.) Also, Mr. Sir was my first teacher–actually the first person in my life–who suggested to me that I should one day attend university, so a piece about Mr. Sir and what I had learned from him seemed a good fit for the UABCs category of posts that comprise part of this three-part blog. In what I initially conceived as being a highly flattering piece, I assumed, of course, I would use his real, full, name. (‘Sir’ was not his real surname–nor his mother’s.)

But when, in preparation for writing my post, I started to think about what I had learned from Mr. Sir, I realized there also were some important things I didn’t learn from him, for which I wasn’t yet ready as a twelve or thirteen year old in Grade 7, that I had to learn later on. To roll them all together, I didn’t learn to ever doubt my school teachers, including Mr. Sir, until quite a bit later on.

Take that story about the softball fracturing his teeth. It is conceivable that he was telling the truth. When I was his student, Mr. Sir was a young, athletic, guy who may very well have played softball in a men’s softball league in the evenings–although I never saw him out on the diamond in the evening or on the weekend in the relatively small town in which we were then living, and in which he also lived. But there are other ways he could have lost those teeth, which he may have deemed prudent not to divulge to his Grade 7 class.

What if he’d had too many drinks when he’d been drinking in a bar, and had gotten into a fight with another patron, who had socked him in the mouth? Or what if he’d been in a car accident, for which he had been at least partly responsible, and his mouth had rammed into the steering wheel of his car? Thinking of it now, either scenario seems a far more likely way of losing a mouthful of teeth than having a softball ram one’s mouth.  If a softball was hurtling towards one’s face, but one couldn’t determine the exact trajectory due to light in one’s eyes, wouldn’t one instinctively cover one’s face to soften a possible blow? And, if there was a softball game involved, it had to have been an amateur game, in which not a great deal was at stake if Mr. Sir failed to catch the ball. And, in an amateur softball game, the ball was unlikely to be actually hurtling. Maybe Mr. Sir was telling us the truth about how he lost his teeth, or maybe not; but the point I’m trying to make here is that I never doubted him at all when he told us that story, and now there is some serious doubt in my mind. Ouch.

I am still very thankful to Mr. Sir for teaching me to think critically about advertising. Since he taught us about various advertising techniques, I’ve been able to use that knowledge to defend myself from various come-ons–and to myself create marketing and educational materials, to promote various products and services. (Whenever I hear “band-wagon technique”, I still think of being introduced to the term by Mr. Sir.) I also appreciate him having instilled in me very early on the habit of reading daily newspapers–not just the comic strips, which is basically all I had read in newspapers up to that point. And, last but not least, I still have fond memories of performing my magic act, based on some basic principles of chemistry, for the class–and then demystifying the magic by explaining to the class how I had done my tricks. (When I see magicians perform, my mind often goes back to that one experience I had as a magician.)

Mr. Sir was very good at instilling in us critical thinking about the world around us–or at least about the aspects of the world of which Grade 7 students are ready to think critically. We weren’t ready then–or at least I wasn’t ready–to be critical of our teachers. I wasn’t yet ready to be critical of Mr. Sir’s story about how he lost his teeth–and I also wasn’t yet ready to be critical when, at the age of twelve, he gave me for a special reading assignment his copy of Plato’s Republic from his university days, and quizzed me about the book as I slogged my way through it. (I then made it only about a third of the way through the book.) For the longest time, I thought that I was necessarily one of Plato’s ‘Guardians’, like Mr. Sir then appeared to me–even if he himself, an adult among children, knew better.

It’s too bad he isn’t still with us, to clear up my questions in his own blog post.

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